The Cashmere disaster within the Himalayan ice desert
British photographer Andrew Newey has documented the lives of the Changpa nomads in Kashmir, inspecting the threats to their Pashmina wool manufacturing.
Andrew Newey spent two weeks with the Changpa nomads in freezing situations in Ladakh, in Indian-administered Kashmir.
To accompany his picture sequence, Newey additionally discovered concerning the historical past of Pashmina wool manufacturing, and the threats to the nomadic shepherds’ lifestyle and traditions.
He explains in his personal phrases: “At an altitude of more than 14,000ft, where winter temperatures can fall to -40 degrees Celsius, it is hard to believe anyone or anything can survive in this vast ice desert that is the Changthang Plateau.
“Situated between the Himalayan and Karakorum mountain ranges, it’s the highest completely inhabited plateau on the earth, and residential to a particularly hardy and uncommon breed of goat – the Changra, or Pashmina goat.
“The high altitude, freezing temperatures and harsh bitter winds in this unforgiving mountainous region are essential to stimulate the growth of the goats’ super-soft undercoat.
“The fibres measure a mere eight to 10 microns in width, making it round 10 instances finer than human hair and eight instances hotter than sheep wool.
“This luxurious fibre is known the world over as Pashmina, the softest and most expensive type of Cashmere wool in the world.
“For centuries the Changpa nomads, who themselves are as hardy as their animals, have roamed ‘the roof of the world’, shifting their herds of yak, sheep and goats alongside conventional migratory routes on this excessive altitude desert each few months, searching for recent grazing pastures.
“This ancient way of life is now very much under threat from climate change, fake Pashmina imports from China, the need for better education and the desire simply for an easier and more comfortable life.
“The nomads and scientists alike are adamant that local weather change is the largest menace to Pashmina manufacturing within the area.
“The Changthang plateau does not usually get much snowfall, and if it does, it begins in January or February.
“However, for the previous few years it has been more and more heavy, beginning as early as December, even November.
“As a result, food supplements have to be brought in to prevent the animals dying from starvation. Also, the winters have been getting warmer, which has reduced the quality and quantity of the valuable Pashmina wool.
“Cashmere is pricey, and rightly so. The Changpa rigorously comb the hair through the spring moulting season to reap the downy undercoat, after which the nice fibre is laboriously separated from the dangerous by hand.
“Once the fibres are manually sorted, cleaned and hand-spun, the weaving process can begin, which is equally demanding and painstaking.
“It takes a number of months to a yr for extremely expert artisans to work their magic on wood looms and weave a masterpiece which shall be exported world wide, promoting for between £150 ($200) and £1,500 ($2,000) by luxurious retailers.
“Another issue of concern is the increasing number of snow leopards in the region, putting their animals at increasing risk of attack. This is a result of the successful conservation efforts over the last decade.
“The menace to Pashmina goat-rearing would imply the top of the livelihoods of about 300,000 individuals within the Jammu and Kashmir state who, instantly or not directly, rely on Pashmina.
“It would also mean an end to the unique culture of the Changpas; most of them are followers of Tibetan Buddhism, and have an elaborate set of customs centred around their livestock.”